Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Hideout Hollow Falls, Buffalo National River, between Compton and Erbie, Arkansas

6/6/2016 -  Hideout Hollow Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  36.07305   -93.26588
  Hideout Hollow Falls:  36.08080   -93.26977
Pet Friendly: No, unfortunately, the NPS is anti-dog.  This area is part of the Buffalo National River and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.  Pets are not allowed on trails within the Buffalo National River, with the exception of the Mill Creek trail and the Buffalo Point campground trails.  You can see the NPS policy here.

Motorcycle Friendly: No, not at all friendly to your big bike.  The trailhead is 3.5 miles down a dirt road that gets pretty rough the last mile or two.

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike, at least to the top of the falls.  It is one mile each way and the highest-to-lowest elevation change is only 150 feet.  Our actual hiking time was only about 20 minutes each way.  There are a couple of small creeks to cross, but I would still rate this an easy hike.  The climb to the base of the waterfall is a little iffy.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.

Hideout Hollow Falls (37 ft)
Hideout Hollow is not that far from the Erbie trailhead, so after completing our hike to Thunder Canyon Falls, my hiking companions and I decided to see what the road (NC-2700) up the mountain to the Hideout Hollow trailhead was like.  I was hiking today with Jim Fitsimones, Dan Frew, Todd Sadowski, and Jason Harris.  Thunder Canyon Falls was great, and thanks to Jim's penchant for wanting an early start, it was only mid-morning when we got back to the Erbie trailhead.  The Thunder Canyon Falls hike is not that tiring, so we were still relatively fresh, and had plenty of time for another hike.  Besides, on my first trip to Hideout Hollow just a few days ago, I didn't go to the base of Hideout Hollow Falls.  Dan had confirmed that he had taken the ledge I had seen on my previous hike to access the base of Hideout Hollow Falls, so I was eager to actually try it out.

Getting to the trailhead for us was easy, theoretically, because we were less than three miles down the road from it.  I say theoretically because this short stretch of NC-2700 is one of the worst roads in Arkansas, and you just never know if you will be able to get through on it.  We had come to Erbie on the Erbie Campground Road because we didn't know what the condition of the road was and couldn't trust it.  Today, the road was passable, so we had no problems.

Don't let my talk of the road between Erbie and the Hideout Hollow trailhead dissuade you from going to this nice waterfall.  You don't have to travel that part of the road, and the road from Compton to the trailhead is maintained.  To get there, go to the small community of Compton, 8.8 miles north of Ponca on Highway 43.  The small Compton post office will be on the left (coming from Ponca).  Turn right on the gravel road across the highway from the post office.  This is NC-2700.  At least that is what the road sign says.  My Cruiser's GPS says this road is NC-2800, and my road map calls it NC-2250.  The road sign says NC-2700, so that's what I'm going with. At the first intersection, turn right (to stay on NC-2700).   Stay on NC-2700, and go a total of 3.5 miles from the Compton post office.  There will be a place to park on the right, and a sign pointing to the Hideout Hollow trail.

We set off down the trail to Hideout Hollow Falls, and along the way I noticed how much drier it was now than when I visited the area just 11 days ago.  The two small creeks you cross on the trail were not running at all.  The second drainage that the trail dips down into then climbs back to the bluff is actually the drainage that Thunder Canyon Falls is in, over a mile downstream from where this trail crosses it.  On my last trip, it was a challenge crossing it without getting water in my boots.  Today, there was no flow at all, just some pools of water.  Clearly, this creek picks up a good deal of its flow further toward Thunder Canyon Falls downstream.  As beautiful as Thunder Canyon was today, it made me wonder how stunning it must have been a couple of weeks ago. 

The top of Hideout Hollow Falls,
and the ledge you need to crawl out on just beyond it.
Sure enough, as we approached Hideout Hollow Falls, I could tell the flow today was only a fraction of what it was on my previous visit.  Dan had been to the base of Hideout Hollow Falls before and showed us how it was done.  The ledge is just on the other side of the top of the waterfall as you approach it on the trail.  You have to cross the creek right at the top of the waterfall, then ease out onto the ledge.  There is an overhang above the ledge, so you end up crawling along it a few yards to get to the other end.  Out over the end, you will find a drop of about five feet down to rocks and a way down to the huge shelter at the base of the waterfall.  Someone has stacked up rocks to make the step-down and back up only three or four feet. 

Ruins of the old hideout
The shelter behind the waterfall is huge.  I'm not sure if anyone ever actually hid out here, but it would make a great place to do so.  There are ruins of an old stone structure that is referred to as 'the hideout', but this may very well have been someone's home 'back in the day' when folks lived all throughout these hollows.  In current times, we can't imagine living anywhere we can't even drive to, much less someplace this difficult to access.  The folks that pioneered the area in the early 19th century were made of tougher stuff, for sure.  After looking around, we climbed back up to the ledge, crawled back to the top of the waterfall, and headed back.

This is a really nice little hike that is an easy hike to the top of the waterfall, and a way to the base of the falls that is kind of iffy, but certainly doable for most hikers.  I have a hyper fear of heights but still managed it just fine.  I would definitely not take small children out on this ledge, as it is just too close to the edge of the bluff.  Just crossing the creek would be a little too risky as it is very slick when wet.  Likewise, people that have problems with balance should stay away from this ledge, and just enjoy the waterfall view from the top.  It is a long way down to the rocks below.
GPS Track - Hideout Hollow Falls

Monday, June 6, 2016

Thunder Canyon Falls, Buffalo National River, near Erbie, Arkansas

6/6/2016 -  Thunder Canyon Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  36.08335   -93.23358, 1020 ft.
  Thunder Canyon Falls:  36.08459   -93.25427,  1187 ft.
Pet Friendly:  They are decidedly unfriendly to dogs here.  This area is part of the Buffalo National River and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.  Pets are not allowed on trails within the Buffalo National River, with the exception of the Mill Creek trail and the Buffalo Point campground trails.  You can see the NPS policy here.

Motorcycle Friendly: No, not at all friendly to your cruiser or street bike.  The trailhead is several miles down a rough dirt road, no matter which way you go.

Hiking Statistics:  We hiked four miles round trip, with a lowest-to-highest elevation difference of only 220 feet.  The hike on the Cecil Cove Loop Trail is very easy, but when you branch off to go up Thunder Canyon I would have to rate it as a medium bushwhack.  There is a volunteer trail, but it goes up and down some slippery slopes.  The ups and downs are small; the medium difficulty rating is because of the slippery factor alone.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Middle Buffalo Waypoints

Thunder Canyon Falls
with (L-R) Todd, Jason, Jim, Rick, and Dan
Hey...does Todd look completely wet?
Photo by Todd Sadowski
Let's face it, with a name like Thunder Canyon Falls, you want to go there just because the name is so cool.  The waterfall is better than cool, and for many it is their favorite waterfall.  I'm not going that far, Twin Falls of Richland is still my favorite, but this one is definitely in my top ten.   It is also a much easier hike than Twin Falls.  Today, I was hiking with old hiking buddies Dan Frew and Jim Fitsimones, as well as a couple of new friends, Todd Sadowski, and Jason Harris.  The trick with Thunder Canyon is just getting to the trailhead during good water conditions.  With the lack of rainfall this spring, we are already getting to the point where creeks are starting to dry up, so today the road trip was not really that big of a deal.  There are actually a few ways to get there, and today we actually drove on two of them.  I'll describe those as well as three other alternates if the Buffalo River is too high to cross.

Thunder Canyon Falls
  (1) The way we went in today was on what is called the Erbie Campground Road.  Going north on Highway 7, from where the highway makes a hard right turn in Jasper, continue north on Highway 7 for 3.3 miles and turn left (west) on NC-2500 (aka CR-79 or "Erbie Campground Road").  There is a sign saying Erbie Campground at the turn.  Stay on NC-2500 for 6.0 miles and bear right to stay on NC-2500.  In another 0.4 miles, NC-2500 crosses the Buffalo River.  If the water is too high, turn back.  There are other ways to the trailhead that don't require crossing it.  Today, it only had a few inches of water rushing over the low water crossing, so we forged ahead.  No 4WD was even needed today.  Shortly after the Buffalo, you also cross Cecil Creek.  If you cross the Buffalo safely, Cecil Creek should not be a problem.  In 0.2 miles from where you crossed the Buffalo River, turn left onto NC-2900 (aka CR-57).  Go another 0.7 miles on NC-2900, and turn left onto NC-2800 (aka CR-19).  About 50 yards further down the road, the Erbie trailhead parking will be on the right, across from the Erbie church.  Whew!  It sounds like a lot, but this is actually a pretty well maintained back road and is a very pleasant drive with a couple of picturesque old homesteads on it.

  (2) Probably the most direct route is to go to the small community of Compton, 8.8 miles north of Ponca on Highway 43.  The small Compton post office will be on the left (coming from Ponca).  Turn right on the gravel road across the highway from the post office.  This is NC-2700.  At least that is what the road sign says.  Agnetha, the young lady in my Cruiser's GPS that talks to me incessantly, insists on calling this road NC-2800, no matter how many times I correct her.  And my road map calls it NC-2250.  All I can tell you is that I'm going with the road sign. At the first intersection, turn right (to stay on NC-2700).   Stay on NC-2700, and go a total of 6.2 miles from the Compton post office.  You will see the Erbie church on the right, and the Erbie trailhead parking on the left.  Even though this is the most direct route, and the easiest one on paper, you probably don't want to go this way.  After the Hideout Hollow trailhead approximately 3.5 miles from Compton, this road is not maintained.  It is very rough.  Most folks can handle the roughness by just driving slowly, but it also has other hazards.  On a long section of this road, there is a stretch of clay that when wet just turns into a horrible, goopy, clayish, slick, quagmire.  So your conundrum is, you want to see Thunder Canyon Falls during wet conditions, but during wet conditions, even good 4WD vehicles will be challenged by this section of road.  Today, we actually went over this section of road to go to a second hike at Hideout Hollow and had no difficulties at all.  But that was today.  If I didn't know the road conditions, I wouldn't use this road.

Thunder Canyon Falls
This is very perplexing, right?  You want to go see Thunder Canyon Falls when there is lots of flow, and the roar of this waterfall really 'thunders' as it crashes down, but that also means both of the routes detailed above are going to be very dicey.  There are a couple of other routes to the Erbie trailhead that are north of the Buffalo River, so you don't have to cross it:
  (3) Go north on Highway 7 from Jasper, and just after Highway 7 crosses the Buffalo River, turn left onto NC-2890 (aka CR-80).  Whenever you come to a junction, keep turning left.  Follow NC-2890 for 4.6 miles, and turn left onto NC-2900 (aka CR-57).  Go 4.1 miles on NC-2900, and turn left onto NC-2800 (aka CR-19).  About 50 yards further down the road, the Erbie trailhead parking will be on the right.  The first half of this route is a little rough, and you cross several other small creeks before getting to the Cecil/Cove Creek crossing.  You should have a high clearance vehicle for this route.
  (4) Go north on Highway 7 from Jasper, and 4.1 miles north of where you cross the Buffalo River, turn left onto NC-2800 (aka CR-19).  If you are coming from the north, this is about 1.2 miles south of Mystic Caverns.  Go a total of 7.5 miles on NC-2800, and you will be at the Erbie trailhead parking.  There are a few intersections with other rural roads, so make sure you stay on NC-2800 all the way to Erbie.

  (5) Note that for these two routes north of the Buffalo, you will still have to cross Cecil Creek near Erbie.  If you were hoping you would find a way here that doesn't wash your vehicle's undercarriage, you are out of luck.  At least, I don't know a way, other than the really bad road from Compton.   If you can't cross Cecil Creek, you probably will have even less luck with that road.  Danny Hale pointed out yet another way you can get to Thunder Canyon without driving across either Cecil Creek or th Buffalo River.  You can simply park at the parking location for Paige Falls and Broadwater Falls, which is much easier to get to.  Hike down past Paige Falls, past Broadwater Falls, and continue on the trail through the bottom of Broadwater Hollow, where it intersects the Cecil Cove Loop Trail.  Then hike it downstream to Thunder Canyon.  It only adds about a half mile each way and is less than 300 feet elevation difference.  Plus, you get to see three great waterfalls instead of just the one.  You can see the Takahik map for this route here, and you can see my blog post for Paige Falls and Broadwater Hollow Falls here.

Trying to set up the shot without getting wet
with Todd and Jim
As I mentioned, getting to the Erbie trailhead is the hard part.  Once there, this is actually a pleasant, easy hike most of the way.  The Cecil Cove Loop Trail leaves the Erbie trailhead and goes along the creek for just under a mile and a half, crossing the creek three times before you turn left.  It then crosses Cecil Creek one more time and heads up into Thunder Canyon.  This is a very good trail, well-defined and on the level.  You might temporarily lose the trail when you make one of the creek crossings, as we did.  We are used to bushwhacking, so we just headed up the creek until we got to the mouth of Thunder Canyon.  This is quite a bit rougher.  My advice, if you should lose the trail when crossing the creek, is to go back and find it.  You will thank yourself later.  On the way back, we made a point of staying on the loop trail, and it was enormously easier.  

Slot downstream from Thunder Canyon Falls
After the Cecil Cove Loop Trail crosses the creek the fourth time, you turn left onto a volunteer trail that goes up the right (west) side of Thunder Canyon.  This trail goes fairly close to the narrow slot canyon the stream has etched into the floor of the canyon, sometimes veering higher to get around obstacles.  Be very careful along here, as this whole area is always slippery.  I slipped and fell at one point, almost sliding into the four-foot deep slot that the creek runs through.  I was having a heck of a time trying to scramble back from the edge and probably would have fallen in had Todd not given me a hand to get me back on firm footing.  Now, I have fallen many times out hiking, including slipping on ice at Longpool Falls and falling 12 feet off a bluff onto the rocks below.  So far, no permanent damage was incurred, and I probably would have survived this four-foot fall.  But apparently, Todd needs the extra points when he passes into the afterlife, so our official story is that he saved my life.  It can't hurt to have a good story to tell Saint Peter when the time comes.

Yep, it is very slick
Photo by Dan Frew
Thunder Canyon Falls is about a half mile up the slot canyon.  The slipperiness was not just confined to the Thunder Canyon trail.  When we crossed the creek for the first time, one of the things I noticed immediately was that the rocks in the creek bed were about the slipperiest I have ever encountered.  I don't know what kind of dragon snot they coat the rocks with here, but it is very slick.  I slipped several times today, plunging both feet into the water well above the tops of the boots.  If you are a regular blog reader, you know how I hate hiking with wet socks.  Around Thunder Canyon Falls itself, it is a solid rock surface everywhere, and it is all very slick.  At one point, Todd started slipping just a little, and could not stop the quick slide into the pool below the waterfall.  He went full in underwater and had a heck of a time just trying to get out without sliding back in.  I cannot emphasize enough just how slippery everything is here.  I have never seen anything like it.

After lingering quite a while at Thunder Canyon Falls, taking in this extra-special Natural State goodness and getting the group photo, we headed back toward the trailhead.  I slipped a couple more times in Cecil Creek, but we made a point of sticking to the trail on the way back, and it went much quicker and easier.  This is one of the marquee waterfalls in Arkansas, which says a lot for it.  I highly recommend this hike, just be careful when you go, and expect to get wet.  For my next trip, I am seriously considering just using water shoes instead of my hiking boots.  I'm not sure how well my feet might hold up going four miles in water shoes, but I'm thinking they would be less likely to slip.  If nothing else, I can take both and put the water shoes on before skirting the pool just downstream of the waterfall.
GPS Track - Thunder Canyon Falls

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Devil's Den Loop Trail, Devil's Den State Park, near Winslow, Arkansas

6/4/2016 -  Waterfalls and Caves on the Devil's Den Loop Trail

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.78131   -94.24948,  1094 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.78074   -94.24408,  1143 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.78197   -94.24302,  1096 ft.
  Devil's Den Twin Falls:  35.78214   -94.24263  1166 ft.

Pet-Friendly: Yes, but it is a state park, so there are rules.  I know, I know, I hate that too.  Dogs are allowed on the trail but are supposed to be on a leash.  We left Boomer at home today since we were going out to dinner after our adventure.  He would have hated not being able to roam freely on the trail.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes, but with a caveat.  There is pavement all the way to where you park, and that's the most important thing for me.  The road into the park on Highway 74, however, has switchbacks that make the Dragon's Tail in North Carolina or the road to Oark seem fairly tame.  So go, enjoy yourself, but be aware you will be slowing down if you enter the park this way.

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike, on a well-traveled trail.  The trail is a little rough in some spots, but even young children can navigate it just fine.  The trail itself is only about 1.5 miles long round trip, with a highest-to-lowest elevation difference of only about 100 feet.  Not too long, very little climbing, and no bushwhacking, so the trail is in my "easy hike" category.  I tend to go off trail a lot and move around for some shots, so my GPS trip meter was 2.4 miles for the hike.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Devil's Den Loop Trail GPS track

Devil's Den Twin Falls
After finishing our hike at Moonshiner's Cave, Bethany and I headed into Devil's Den State Park to hike the loop trail.  This is a relatively short hike at 1.5 miles but has a lot of stuff to see on it.  There used to be even more.  The caves on the loop trail are closed now, but the waterfalls and scenery are more than enough to justify a trip to Devil's Den.  We had made a spur of the moment decision to make a day trip up to Devil's Den, but I had kind of forgotten that Saturdays are on the weekends when all those other people have the day off and might also flock to a place like Devil's Den.  One of the cool things about being retired is that you can get out on weekdays and have the great outdoors to yourself for the most part.  I'll admit that it was still quite pleasant, and I didn't really mind sharing the trail with dozens of other folks on such a nice day.  In addition to being the Natural State, Arkansas should be known as "that place where all the really nice people are."

Falls #2
Getting there is easy, especially for us, since we had been parked at the entrance sign to the state park for our hike to Moonshiner's Cave Falls.  But if you need directions to this little jewel of the state park system, here they are; take I-49 (which many maps still show as I-540), and take exit 45.  This is called the Winslow exit, but you will turn west, away from Winslow, and go 4.4 miles on Highway 74 (also known as Devil's Den Road).  You should see the big sign for Devil's Den State Park on the right.  You're there!  Keep driving past the sign, and you will go through some tight hairpin turns, past the visitor center and finally get to the bottom of the valley.  The road branches left to the swimming pool and the lake on Lee Creek.  You want to go to the right, and just before the bridge over Lee Creek park in the parking area on your right.

Falls #1
The trailhead starts at the end of the parking area toward the bridge, with some stone steps taking you up onto a very well-travelled trail.  The trail winds its way up the hill, but nowhere on this trail is it overly steep.  There is only about a hundred feet of elevation change for the entire loop of the trail.  There were a lot of hikers since it is late spring.  It is a long enough trail that the visitors to the park are spaced out quite a bit and don't really get in the way, even on a weekend.  Hiking the trail in this direction, you come to a couple of caves fairly quickly.  Devil's Den Cave goes back into the mountain side for quite a way, but you wouldn't know that from looking at the entrance.  You won't be able to find out, either, because the entrance is now sealed off.  The second cave, more of a series of crevices, has a big "Closed" sign stuck on the rock.

Caves are closed!
Why close off the caves?  This is part of a last ditch effort to save as many bats as possible.  Bats, as it turns out, are incredibly important to our ecosystem.  They are good little critters, not bad.  They don't really want to suck your blood, nor do they spread rabies any more than any other mammals.  What they are really good at is eating insects.  A cave full of bats can literally eat truckloads of insects a day.  Without bats, we would be overrun with insects and suffer enormous damage to crops and other stuff.  Humans hurt bats in a couple of ways.  If we wake them during hibernation, they go out and try to find food (insects, remember?).  Being wintertime, there are no insects to eat, and they can weaken and die.  Secondly, White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is running rampant in the bat world.  This disease can be spread by humans, on their clothes, shoes, etc.  It doesn't directly kill the bats, but it screws up their internal thermostat, which tends to wake them prematurely from hibernation.  And we have already discussed how that story ends.  

Falls #2
Getting off my bat soapbox and back on the hike, a short distance further on the loop trail you will find the first waterfall.  Actually, you won't find it on the trail, but if it is flowing you can hear it easily from the trail.  There is a well-defined path going up a small hill and back down in a little nook with the waterfall in it. In the coordinate listings above, I reference it as Unnamed Falls #1.  I'm sure with all the visitors this trail sees, it must have a name by now, but I have been calling it "the little falls".  That's only because it is much shorter than "the big falls".  Leaving Falls #1, the trail actually goes under "the big falls", Unnamed Falls #2, just before you come to Devil's Den Twin Falls.   This is a waterfall that tends to dry up before the others in the area but is quite tall.  It falls over the trail, hits some rocks, and falls off for another good drop before flowing into the same creek as Devil's Den Twin Falls.

Devil's Den Twin Falls - Upper Waterfall
The Twin Falls at Devil's Den are a couple of spectacular cascades, with a bridge
 spanning between them for the loop trail.  These are really nice, really photogenic waterfalls.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, the foliage makes it just about impossible to get a good shot of the span of these very tall waterfalls.  Fortunately for me, I enjoy just being there and taking it all in more than I do the photography stuff.  So I can't adequately show you how awesome it is, you just need to take my word for it.  Or go and see for yourself.  Leaving Falls #2 and Devil's Den Twin Falls, you continue on around the loop and come down close to Lee Creek.  There are paths very close to the creek, as well as further back on the bluff.  

The spillway at Devil's Den
Following along on the trail, you hike parallel to the creek, and eventually, come back to  the parking area.  This is an easy hike that I recommend to hikers of all ages and all levels of experience.  It's just got a lot going for it and is a lot of Natural State goodness with a minimal amount of effort.  This one is good family fun.  After you hike the loop trail, you can backtrack the way you came, and take a right turn to go past the pool and park near the lake spillway.  Normally, this large masonry dam makes a sensational looking waterfall as well.  Today, water was just roaring on Lee Creek and the spillway was an impressive but muddy mess.  This is one of those that looks much better with a normal amount of flow.
Devil's Den GPS Tracks
Red - Devil's Den Loop Trail track
Blue - Moonshiner's Cave Falls track

Moonshiner's Cave and Falls, Devil's Den State Park, near Winslow, Arkansas

6/4/2016 -  Moonshiner's Cave Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.78083   -94.23651,  1536 ft.
  Moonshiner's Cave Falls:  35.78015   -94.23221,  1335 ft.

Pet-Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine.  That being said, I'm not sure if this is within the confines of the state park or not.  My maps show the parking area in the park boundary, but not the cave and waterfall itself.  I do know that on occasion Park Interpreters lead hikes to it.  Inside the state parks, dogs are supposed to be on a leash.  

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes!  There is a nice big parking area right on Highway 74.  

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike, in my opinion.  I have heard folks complain about the hike out being a hard one, but I really don't get that.  It is a half mile each way and an elevation change of 200 feet, spaced out over the whole half mile.  There is an old Jeep trail all the way down, so no bushwhacking or rock climbing is necessary.  

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Moonshiner's Cave GPS track

Moonshiner's Cave Falls - with Bethany
This was one of those cloudy, gray, spring days.  It was supposed to rain all day, according to the big fat liars at NOAA's weather center.  We had fallen for that line too often lately and the weather folks have about zero credibility with us now.  At any rate, it wasn't raining this morning when we were trying to figure out what to do.  We decided not to let the weather hold us back, but we would go someplace with short hikes that we could abandon on short notice.  Devil's Den is one of those Arkansas favorites that is always a fun outing, and I have long wanted to see if we could catch Moonshiner's Cave Falls with some water for a change. My wife, Bethany, and I quickly settled on that and packed up the Explorer to go do some exploring.  We thought we would go to Fort Smith for an early dinner afterward, so we left Boomer (our German Shepherd) home this time.  After we left our home north of Dover, it poured rain on us for much of the hour-long trip to Devil's Den.  Been there, done that, and we didn't let it scare us. 

Inside the cave, it is acutally quite roomy
This is one of the easiest trailheads to get to I have ever seen. To get there, take I-49 (which many maps still show as I-540), and take exit 45.  This is called the Winslow exit, but you will turn west, away from Winslow, and go 4.4 miles on Highway 74 (also known as Devil's Den Road).  You will pass through the small community of Blackburn.  You should see the big sign for Devil's Den State Park on the right.  Park across the highway from that sign, in the nice big semi-paved parking area they have provided for you.  If you happen to be on the other side of the state park, you can enter Devil's Den State Park from the west on Highway 220, turn up Highway 74, go through the park to the entrance sign, and park across from the sign.

Moonshiner's Cave Falls
The trail is an old Jeep road that runs downhill from Highway 74 almost down to Blackburn Creek.  Moonshiner's Cave is only halfway down to the creek.  From the parking area, go about a hundred yards west (toward the park) on the same side of the road.  You will see a well defined Jeep road going downhill on your left.  Hike down this trail and keep on it, staying left if any tracks branch off.  A half mile from the highway, just before the trail crosses a stream, there is a small cleared area on the right.  The stream is actually what feeds the Moonshiner's Cave Falls, and the clearing is actually on top of the cave itself.  If you look over the bluff, you can see the waterfall on your left and the creek continuing on down the hillside to Blackburn Creek.  Another waterfall spills off the bluff a little further to the right.  There is a trail on the right, leading down from the bluff to the front of the cave.

Moonshiner's Cave Falls
If you do a little research, it's easy to find directions to this unique and picturesque place.  It is also a short and fairly easy hike.  Plus, it's just a downright cool place to check out.  It is a piece of Arkansas history, so please show this place, and the future generations of people that visit it, the respect it deserves.  Leave it unchanged and unlittered when you leave.  I know the top of the door frame has been deteriorating for years and has seemed ready to collapse under the weight of the rocks above it.  Today, the rock that was above it was gone, and the cedar post that had been used to try to prop it up was set aside.  I'm assuming the rocks were taken down as a safety measure since one wrong move going through the door would have brought it all down on someone's head.  

Etching next to doorway
There is a carving next to the door that says "J.P.H 10.1(?)4 1905".  I'm guessing that is the date the rock wall was initially put in place to seal off the shelter and the initials of the guy that did it.  That was only a little over a century ago, so I'll bet some of the locals know the whole story, but I haven't found anyone yet that knows.  If you know more about it, please leave a comment below.  Legend has it this cave got its name from moonshiners using this location for a still.  It is a great location for a still, with a source of water falling right over the front of the cave (sometimes), but I can't verify it was ever actually used for that.  I did find an article that implied an early family in the area had blocked off the front of this shelter-type cave to store vegetables and other stuff.  I find that a little easier to believe since the waterfall is often dry, so there are much better places for a still.

Another waterfall around the bluff from the cave
The hike back is, unfortunately, uphill, but it really isn't that bad.  Some folks have complained about it being a really hard hike out because of the climb, but I  would say don't listen to them.  The elevation change is pretty much constant, so it is only 200 feet spread out over the whole half mile.  I have seen many photos of small children here, so it can't be all that bad.  I'm 63 years old, don't exercise enough and eat too much, and I'm calling this an easy one.  No matter how out of shape you are, if you just take a little time you will be fine.  I highly recommend this hike.  It is easy to drive to, easy to hike to and has a nice payoff at the end with high ratings on the cool factor.  This is a wet weather waterfall, and will dry up every summer, so try to go after a good rain in the wetter seasons.  
Devil's Den GPS Tracks
Red - Devil's Den Loop Trail track
Blue - Moonshiner's Cave Falls track

Friday, June 3, 2016

Twin Falls, Devon Falls, Hamilton Falls, and others, Richland Wilderness area, Ozarks near Lurton, Arkansas

6/2/2016 - Twin Falls, Devon Falls, Richland Falls, Hamilton Falls, Big Devil's Bluff Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking and Trail Head:  35.80737,  -92.93940,  1516 ft.
  Twin Falls: 35.80594, -92.96412,  1184 ft.
  Richland Falls: 35.80075, -92.96010,  1155 ft.
  Jim Bob (Long Devil's) Falls:  35.80804,  -92.96831,  1316 ft.
  Devon Falls:  35.81724,  -92.96145,  1435 ft.
  Don Hamilton Falls:  35.81199, -92.96375,  1320 ft.
  Big Devil's Bluff Falls:  35.81098,  -92.96294,  1322 ft.
  Mystic Falls:  35.80479,  -92.96518,  1275 ft.
  Mystic Cascades:  35.80519,  -92.96510,  1219 ft.
  Get onto trace road from FR-1205:  35.80864,  -92.94396,  1531 ft.
  Leave trace road to Hamilton Falls:  35.81261,  -92.96180,  1462 ft.
  Leave trace road to Twin Falls:  35.80931,  -92.95933,  1536 ft.
  Trail branch to the top of Long Devil's Falls: 35.80555, -92.96223,  1185 ft.
  Unnamed Falls at drainage near trail head:  35.80871   -92.94082

Pet Friendly: Somewhat.  Free Roaming pets off leash, like Boomer, should be okay if they can do some climbing and scrambling.  I would not take pets that need to stay on leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  I would never take my Harley on it.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, The Richland Wilderness Area is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Boomer and I ended up hiking 7.7 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of just under 500 feet, believe it or not.  The "lower FR-1205" route is mostly on the level, with only a couple of big climbs of over 200 feet.  It is what I would rate as a difficult bushwhack, just due to the length and the ruggedness of the terrain.  It is a little more difficult this time of year since the foliage makes it harder to discern where that old trace road is.  We were hiking for 5 hours and 32 minutes on the track at the bottom of this post.  

GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with these routes is at bottom of this post:
  GPS track file for Lower FR-1205 route to Twin Falls 
  GPS track file for Upper FR-1205 to Hamilton Falls to Twin Falls
  GPS track file for Twin Falls to Upper FR-1205

Twin Falls - with Boomer
Most of the week, we have had a forecast for rain that never came, but it kept me from going on any long hikes.  I'm not a big fan of hiking in the rain.  Today, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I decided it was time to stop thinking the weatherman had a clue as to what was going to happen.  It was time to get out in the woods.  Since it had not rained all week I was looking for a large drainage with big creeks and big waterfalls.  The Richland Creek area came to mind immediately.  Looking at my past visits, I realized I had not been to this favorite of mine for well over a year.  Clearly, that is unacceptable, so we packed up and headed out.

Devon Falls
I have documented five routes to Twin Falls on previous posts.  The one we took today was my most recently documented route, and the one I now prefer.  This one runs from FR-1205, north of the Richland Creek campground, across the large bench high above Richland Creek, then down into the Big Devil's Fork drainage.  It eliminates the need to cross Falling Water Creek and Richland Creek and is a shorter, better, route than hiking from Iceledo Gap or Hill Cemetery.  Unless you have a pretty good 4WD, the road to Hill Cemetery from Iceledo Gap is not advisable.  It is always in bad shape now and is a veritable swamp after a good rain.  As bad as the road to Hill Cemetery is, I'm sure the FJ Cruiser is up to it; still, I like the direct routes from FR-1205 better.

If you are curious about the other four routes to this great hiking area, here's a quick review and links to the posts for detailed directions:
  3) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Upper FR-1205 Route")
  4) Hike down the spur from Sandstone Castle
  5) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Lower FR-1205 Route")
Today, Boomer and I used the same route to Devon Falls as my last visit here in March 2015.  You can read the finer details of that route in the blog post here.

Turn off Highway 123 here!
To get there, take Highway 7 north and turn onto Highway 123 north at Lurton.  From the 'T' where you can turn left to go back to Highway 7 or right to Highway 123, turn right and go 1.5 miles.  Turn right on NC-5070 (aka FR-1200, CR-36, Herbie Hampton Rd, and Assembly of God Church Road). NC-5070 is paved for the first mile, then is a gravel road that Newton County does a fairly good job of maintaining.  Take NC-5070 for 6.8 miles, then turn right on NC-5080 (aka FR-1205).  Go 6.5 miles on NC-5080 (FR-1205) and turn right into the parking location and trail head.  If you know where Dickey Junction is, this trailhead is right at 2.1 miles south of Dickey Junction on FR-1205 or 4.9 miles past Iceledo Gap.  FR-1205 continues on to the Richland Campground (1.8 miles from the parking location) and Falling Water Road, but my experience is that the road from Lurton is usually in much better shape and is shorter than coming in from the south.  There is a spot to pull in off the road here, and a campfire ring where folks have camped here in the past.

Hamilton Falls
From the parking location, go toward the creek about ten yards from the parking spot and you will find a faint volunteer trail going off to the right (north).  This trail comes down to the juncture of the main creek in the drainage with another feeder creek that comes in from your right.  There is a little four-foot waterfall on this feeder creek just before the juncture with the drainage's main creek.  Cross the main creek here, and after crossing the creek, the volunteer trail goes up the other side of the drainage.

Richland Falls
Once back above the creek, as the slope starts to level out, you will find an old trace road.  This is the same road that wraps all the way around the mountain in this valley to the old road that eventually goes up to Hill Cemetery.  This was the first time I had taken this route in full "leaves on" season, and the heavy foliage certainly made a difference.  There has been enough horse and people traffic on the volunteer trail over to the old trace road that we had no trouble following it.  It had rained this morning prior to our arrival, however.  That foliage was soaking wet, and before long I was also soaking wet from the chest down.  The additional foliage also made it more difficult to discern where the old trace road was.  It is just a trace, after all.  We lost the trail for a short distance once, but that's not really a big deal.  As long as you stay on this bench, you'll end up where you need to be and will find the old road again.

We followed the old trace road all the way around the mountain, past where we would normally drop down to Twin Falls, and past the point to drop down to Hamilton Falls.  The old trace road crosses a couple of creeks that normally have water flow.   On the second of these good sized tributaries, there are a couple of small waterfalls maybe three feet high just downstream of the trail.  This is the drainage that contains Devon Falls.  Devon Falls is only about 50 feet below where the old trace road crosses the creek.

Devon Falls
Devon Falls is on the tributary creek in the drainage on the north side of the mountain that the old trace road wraps around.  This is one beautiful little waterfall, only about 12 feet tall, but lively and spirited, as was the little boy it is named for.  Even though it is not that tall, Devon Falls is a tricky one to access the base.  On the north side of the creek, the bluff goes almost back to Big Devil's Canyon.  On the south side of the creek, there is a spot about 15 yards downstream of the waterfall that has a rock ledge jutting out.  You can step down onto this ledge, then you will be able to see a step cut into the rock next to the bluff face.  You can step down on this and then down to the bottom of the bluff.  

Hamilton Falls
Leaving Devon Falls, Boomer and I headed back down the old trace road the way we had come in.  About 0.4 miles south of Devon Falls is where you turn right (west) off the trail and bushwhack downhill into Big Devil's Fork canyon to Hamilton Falls.  Don Hamilton Falls, to use its full name, is a beautiful 12-foot waterfall, spanning all of Big Devil's Fork at this point.  There is a crag jutting out from the top of the bluff on this side (the east side) that makes a great photographer's vantage point.  Be careful here, because it is a small space and slopes toward the dropoff.  Whenever I take a shot from this vantage point, my insane fear of heights kicks in.  So far, I have not fallen to my death, so maybe that fear of heights is doing its job.  Just downstream from this vantage point, you can descend down to creek level and go right to the base of this spectacular waterfall.

Big Devil's Bluff Falls
On the drive up today, I was thinking about what I might want to do differently this trip.  I thought that if the water in the creek was low enough to let me hike down at creek level, I should get some shots of Big Devil's Bluff Falls from its base, something I have never done.  You have to decide at Hamilton Falls whether you want to commit to hiking down at creek level, or going back on top of the bluff and hiking downstream there.  There is a tall bluff cliff along the creek in this section, not really allowing access down until you get all the way to Twin Falls.  Hiking along the creek is a little rougher, and requires crossing the creek a few times, but I like it better.  If you hike downstream along the top of the bluff, there is a spot just downstream of Big Devil's Bluff Falls that you can see this waterfall, but photographing it requires clinging to a tree next to that bluff cliff.  Again, my intense fear of heights is a limiting factor, although I have shot it in this fashion.   Today, Boomer and I went down the creek, so we made our way over into the tight alcove that Big Devil's Bluff Falls flows down into.  I managed to shoot it, but there is so little wiggle room in front of the base that you can't back away from it a decent distance and I had to take the photo looking up at it.  I really need a super-wide angle lens.

Fissures in the creek bed above Twin Falls
Continuing on downstream along Big Devil's Fork, we made it down to the top of Twin Falls without too much effort.  It involves rock hopping a good deal of the way, but you are going to run into a rock scramble along the top of the bluff too.  The rocks along the creek were very slippery, and despite my best efforts, I still managed to slip and dunk my feet into water above the top of my boots a couple of times.  It is a good thing I keep a spare pair of socks in my sling pack.  Just upstream of Twin Falls, there is a section of the creek where the water runs through fissures in the creek bed.  At the top of Twin Falls, we went up past the camp site on the knob between the two waterfalls, and crossed over Long Devil's Fork to the trail on the far (west) side.  Since we were already on the trail at the top of the left twin waterfall, I decided to go ahead and head over to Richland Falls first.  Boomer and I used the trail that horses use to go up and over the knob between Twin Falls and Richland Falls.  The trail takes you past a nice flat clearing with a camp site, and then down to Richland Falls.  

Richland Falls
Even though it hasn't rained substantially for over a week, the upper Richland Creek drainage obviously still had plenty of water.  Richland Falls looked great today, with the waterfall stretching all the way across a very wide Richland Creek at this point.  From Richland Falls, we took the lower route back to Twin Falls.  This goes back up to the camp site, then down to the bluff just above Richland Creek and back up the combined Devil's Fork creek to Twin Falls.  I have seen Twin Falls with much more flow, but it had more than enough to be its normal spectabulous self.  As I have mentioned many times, out of all the hundreds of waterfalls I have visited in Arkansas, this is my favorite.  Photos of it look fantastic, but there is something about being there that is hard to describe.  About the best that I can come up with when trying to explain it is that this is like the feeling you get when you step into the grotto at Fuzzybutt Falls, only with about a hundred times more water.  A lot of folks have visited Fuzzybutt Falls;  if you have, you know what I mean.

Twin Falls
After hanging out at Twin Falls and savoring that feeling for a while, Boomer and
 I started back to the Cruiser.  While going behind the waterfalls to get to the east side of Devil's Fork creek, I stopped and shot both waterfalls from the little peninsula between them, another perspective I have never done.  The climb from Twin Falls back up to the old trace road is the most unpleasant part of this hike, to be sure.  For the first part of the climb, close to the bluff, there is a rock scramble that you have to make your way through.  As you climb above where the rocks are, it becomes steeper and is a very tiring climb until you get up onto the bench and make your way over to the old trace road again.  We lost the trace road trail for a while going back, as well.  Again, that's not a big deal as you can stay on the bench, pretty much on the level, and make your way in the right direction.  We always seem to find the old trace road again, and it leads us right into the volunteer trail down and across the last drainage before the final climb up to the parking location.

Unnamed Waterfall in drainage close to parking location
This is a hike I will always highly recommend as it is one of the most beautiful areas of a beautifully Natural State.  Long Devil's Fork and Big Devil's Fork have huge drainages and keep a good water flow long after other creeks in the Ozarks have dried up in the summer.  They do get pretty low late in hot, dry, summers, but I have never seen them go dry.  If you do hike out to Twin Falls, do a little pre-planning ahead of time.  Take a look at all the routes you have available and make some well-informed decisions on which way to go.  Unless you have a good 4WD, don't go to Hill Cemetery.  If recent rains have swollen Richland Creek, don't try to take the Richland Creek trail.  I have seen a couple spend most of the day trying (unsuccessfully) to make that crossing, and almost drowning in the process.  The Richland Creek trail can probably be navigated without a GPS (or GPS app on your phone), but for all the other routes, I would not recommend you go without a GPS.

GPS Tracks to Twin Falls
Red - Hill Cemetery to Twin Falls
Yellow - Upper FR-1205 route to Hamilton and Twin Falls
Blue - Upper FR-1205 route to Twin Falls
Black - Lower FR-1205 to Twin Falls